A packed house at the Bryce Jordan Center will honor Penn State coach Joe Paterno with a memorial service on Thursday. Thousands attended a public viewing of Paterno in the past two days, and people lined the streets of State College for his funeral procession on Wednesday.
After the tributes end, the school faces a tricky question: how best to recognize Paterno's contributions to the school and football program in a more permanent way.
There's a movement afoot to rename all or part of Beaver Stadium in Paterno's honor. Several online petitions have been formed to do just that, such as this one and this one and this one. One of those petitions has already gathered more than 25,000 signatures.
A school spokesman told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that university leaders are aware of the movement to rename the stadium.
"There are a lot of suggestions being made, and that's understandable considering the impact Joe Paterno's had on the school and the community," spokesman Bill Mahon said. "The board will be looking at those and discussing ideas of their own in the coming months."
Mahon added that no immediate action would be taken but said of the trustees, "they're listening."
Of course, Penn State leaders have to weigh the immeasurable impact Paterno had on the football program and the school against his role in the Jerry Sandusky scandal. After all, the board of trustees fired Paterno in November because it felt he didn't do enough after learning of child sex abuse allegations of Sandusky in 2002. Honoring Paterno right now might be viewed as insensitive by many, and who knows if more damaging information on this case may come to light?
The Nittany Lions' stadium is named after James A. Beaver, a Civil War hero and former Pennsylvania governor who also served as Penn State president. His father-in-law helped found the school. One of his descendants told the Harrisburg Patriot-News that he fully supports the idea of naming the field after Paterno.
Calling it Paterno Field at Beaver Stadium would be a way to honor both men, but it's also clumsy. It reminds me of the movement in college basketball to rename courts after legendary coaches. That's a nice gesture, but when is the last time you heard someone say, "Let's go see Duke play at Coach K Court at Cameron Indoor Stadium?" No one is going to use the entire Paterno Field at Beaver Stadium title when referring to the home of the Nittany Lions.
As with many things concerning Paterno, there's a strong parallel here with Alabama legend Bear Bryant. The Tide's stadium was named after former Alabama governor George H. Denny when it opened in 1929. But it was renamed Bryant-Denny Stadium in 1975. Paterno-Beaver or Beaver-Paterno doesn't have quite the same ring to it, but it's an idea that would properly recognize both men. Or go all out and rename the entire stadium after Paterno; Beaver's name is already on several campus landmarks and a prominent street in State College.
Something along these lines will eventually come to pass. But the Penn State leaders would be wise to let emotions cool before making any such changes.